June and July are the best months for picnics. With any luck you get a run of those glorious hot days when the sky is as blue as jay’s wing and the countryside is green and lush. There are no wasps yet to bother you and the birds are still singing in the woods.
Good places for picnicking include Stonebarrow outside Charmouth, Lamberts Castle, Abbotsbury and all of the beaches along our stretch of the Jurassic Coast. At Stonebarrow you can park in the National Trust car park (pay and display, but does have loos and a small shop) and then stroll out in almost any direction to find your own spot of grassy turf with panoramic views of the coastline.
At Abbotsbury there are lots of choices, both inland and on the beach. You’ll have to pay to park, but then you will have all the village facilities to hand.
Our most impressive hillfort is Eggardon Hill above Powerstock. It’s half owned by the National Trust so you have access to the best bits. But it’s usually quite windy up there, which is why it makes such a successful location for the annual Kite Festival. Parking, although free, is limited. We prefer Lamberts Castle, also National Trust, which has a free carpark and views that reach all the way to Portland on a clear day. (Wherever you go, don’t leave valuables in your car as, sad to say, thieves do operate at many beauty spots.)
Sheila Gilbey, from The Abbots House in Charmouth, shares with us some of her favourite picnic recipes.
Nowadays eating al fresco is a regular occurrence in England, whether as a barbecue, fish and chips on the sea front or a picnic in the countryside.
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 40 minutes. Total time: 50 minutes.
- 2 tsp olive, sunflower or vegetable oil, for greasing
- 4 large free-range eggs
- 50ml milk or single cream
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or chives
- 3 cherry tomatoes, halved, to decorate
Choice of suggested additions — I would use two vegetable options and one cheese
- Handful frozen sweetcorn or peas, defrosted
- 2 small new potatoes, boiled and cut into small pieces
- 1 courgette, sliced and sautéed for 1 minute
- 4 chestnut mushrooms, sliced and sautéed for 1 minute
- 3 asparagus spears blanched in boiling water until just tender and cut into 2-3cm pieces
- 50g diced feta cheese
- 50g diced brie
- 2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180C
- Butter a small loaf tin (I find a silicone tin works really well) or a 6-hole muffin tin.
- Break the eggs into a medium bowl. Add the milk or cream to the eggs. Whisk the eggs with a fork or metal whisk until it is light and fluffy.
- Add your choice of cheese, herbs and vegetables to the mix and fold in lightly. Season lightly.
- Pour the mixture into the loaf or muffin tin. Place the halved tomatoes on top.
- Bake for approximately 40 minutes for the loaf or 20 minutes for the muffins until the frittata is golden-brown and set. Check that it is cooked in the middle by poking in a sharp knife. If it is still loose, return the dish to the oven until set. Leave to cool a little before removing from the tin. You can eat it warm or cold.
Filo picnic baskets and salad wraps
Filo Picnic Baskets
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 8-10 minutes. Total time: 20 minutes. Makes 12-14.
- 6 large filo pastry sheets
- 100g butter, melted, mixed with 2tbsp olive oil
- Avocado, hummus and black olive
- Chopped ham with egg mayonnaise
- Diced chicken in herb mayonnaise
- Grated cheddar cheese, sweetcorn and celery
- Red onion marmalade and goats cheese
- Mozzarella with sun-dried tomato in garden herb pesto
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / fan 160°C / gas 4. Grease a deep patty tin using the melted butter and oil.
- Brush 1 sheet of filo pastry with the melted butter and oil, then top with the second sheet and brush again. Then finish off with a third sheet.
- Using an 8cm cutter, cut as many circles as you can keeping close to each circle to get as many out as possible.
- Use the filo circles to line the patty tin, and press them gently into the bases.
- Bake for approximately 8 minutes until starting to look golden. Turn them over and rest on the tin and bake for a further 3-4 minutes to crisp up the bottoms.
- To make lids for the filo baskets, follow the above to stage 3, then using a 6cm cutter cut out as many circles as you can. You can, at this stage, to make a tasty crisp or ‘dipper’, brush them with butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, sesame seeds or poppy seeds.
- Place these on a greased baking tray and bake for about 7 minutes until golden.
- When you are ready to go, fill your basket with your choice of filling and pop the lid on.
- The cooked filo shells can be stored in a container in the fridge or freezer until ready to use, then flashed in the oven to crisp up.
Prep time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.
- 8 Cos lettuce or large spinach leaves
- 2 large carrots
- 4 radishes
- 1 spring onion
- small beetroot
- tbsp olive or hazelnut oil
- tsp red wine or cider vinegar
- Trim, peel and coarsely grate the carrots and beetroot. Thinly slice the radishes, and finely slice the spring onions lengthwise.
- Combine these in a bowl with the olive oil and vinegar. Season to taste.
- Divide the vegetable mixture evenly between the leaves. Fold in the ends and roll the leaves up. To hold the wraps together, tie with chives or finely cut spring onion, or secure with cocktail sticks.
- These can be made in the morning, ready to eat that day.
Filo cheese straws
Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 10-15 minutes. Total time: 25-30 minutes. Makes: 12.
These cigar-shaped sticks are lighter than a traditional cheese straw. They are great to take on a picnic as children can grab one while playing and it doesn’t matter about the crispy filo pastry dropping everywhere!
- 6 large sheets ready-made filo pastry
- 25g butter, melted
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 50g Parmesan or 75g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated
- 1 tsp paprika
- Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6, 200°C. Unwrap the pastry and cover with cling film. Place one sheet on a work surface. Stir together the melted butter and oil and brush a little of it all over the filo. Now sprinkle over a heaped spoonful of the cheese and add a pinch of paprika.
- Fold the pastry in half widthways, press down to remove any air bubbles, then tightly roll it up lengthways to form a thin cylinder. Cut this in half to make two straws that are each about 15cm long. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, then repeat with the remaining pastry.
- Brush the straws all over with more of the butter mixture, then bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Set aside on kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil, and allow to cool before serving. The straws will keep in an airtight container for 2 days and may be refreshed quickly in the oven. They freeze well, before baking.
Prep time: 15 minutes. Total time: 20 minutes, plus chilling. Makes 24 small squares or approximately 10 lollipops.
- 120g butter (unsalted)
- 300g plain or milk chocolate, broken into pieces
- 45g golden syrup
- 100g amaretti or digestive biscuits, roughly crushed brazil nuts or almonds, roughly chopped
- mini marshmallows
- 100g raisins or dried cranberries
- 3 pieces stem ginger, drained and finely chopped (optional)
- To make squares of Rocky Road, grease and line a 20cm square tin with baking paper.
- Place the chocolate into a heatproof bowl with the butter and syrup. Put the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and heat gently until melted. Remove from the heat and stir to combine.
- Add the crushed biscuits, nuts, dried fruit, marshmallows, and — if using — the ginger to the chocolate, and mix well to coat.
- Spoon into the prepared tin, and press down well. Chill for 1-2 hours, or until firm. Lift out of the tin and cut in squares.
To make lollipops: make as in the method until the end of step 3. Line a small rounded dish or glass with baking paper leaving a big lip at the top. Spoon in some of the mixture, push a lolly stick into the middle and leave to chill as above. When firm, remove from the dish and if liked you can tie the bottom with a ribbon ready to take on your picnic. On a very hot day you can put these in the freezer the night before so that they stay firm.